Picture This: Why the iPod Nano Has a Camera and the iPod Touch Does Not [UPDATED]

iPod Camera

[UPDATE:] I added some additional thoughts in the comments section.

Lots of stuff announced and discussed in Apple’s recent iTunes/iPod announcements, but it seems the camera situation is the most complained about. Bottom line is the new nano has one, the new touch does not.

Isn’t this backwards? Isn’t it a no-brainer to add a camera to the touch? Is Apple ripping us off? Are they just trying to “force” us to buy iPhones? Let’s burn all our Apple equipment and buy Zunes before Arrington and Calacanis can accuse us all of being sellouts…

But, as usual, the truth is much less sinister. Apple has simply made what they feel are the most appropriate choices for each device given the target market and the priorities for each.

The iPod nano Got a Camera

Yes, but it’s only a video camera. It does not shoot stills. That’s an important distinction because stills require much better quality.

With the great popularity of the Flip line of video cameras, Apple feels there are still many people who haven’t tried it; they want a piece of that. Only time will tell, but they may be right. Given how quickly the iPhone took over the “uploaded photo” crown on Flickr, it’s not hard to imagine the new nano making a dent in movie uploads.

But why is it only a video camera? Steve Jobs was asked that very question:

…the sensors you need to record video are extremely thin these days—thin enough to fit into the wafer-thin Nano. But the ones with enough resolution for stills, especially with autofocus (like the sensor in the iPhone), are much too thick to cram into a player that’s only .02 inches thick.

Well, well. There was no evil intent, just a technical limitation that even the geniuses at Apple can’t overcome. And I certainly agree with Apple’s decision to not make the nano thicker. Besides, they had a price point to consider.

No camera in the iPod touch.

It’s hard to believe this was done to further distinguish the iPhone. You’re not going to “force” people to buy a phone — and the >$75 monthly bill that goes with it — by depriving them of a camera in a non-phone. No, the omission must be for some other reason.

I think people have forgotten how much an iPhone really costs. You only pay AT&T $199 or $299, but AT&T tosses around $400 to Apple. The iPhone is an expensive device. The various cell radios, GPS, and a camera with auto-focus and -exposure, not to mention video capabilities, don’t come cheap in such a small form factor.

Apple’s goal was to cut the touch’s price — Schiller said so — while adding enhancements that were most needed. They had to increase capacity, and the device was due for a speed bump as well. For the same $299 and $399 price as before, you get double the memory and the fast “guts” of the current iPhone 3GS. That speed difference is huge, allowing even better games that, in case you hand’t noticed, the touch is being marketed towards.

And, no, the simple video in the new nano would have made little sense (and fell too short of expectations) slapped in the touch as a stop-gap measure. That’s not how Apple rolls.

I’m sure the touch gets a camera at some point. I’m not sure it’ll be the same as the iPhone’s, given the slightly different cases, but it wasn’t the right change now. It would not have been practical given the level of quality needed, and the priorities of lower cost and more important enhancements.

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8 thoughts on “Picture This: Why the iPod Nano Has a Camera and the iPod Touch Does Not [UPDATED]

  1. I bought a touch because I was waiting to upgrade from a 30gb iPod classic. I bought into the rumors and was excited about the idea of an iPhone 3gs quality camera but that was just gravy and I got over it. I’m pretty happy with this thing. It is a rather marvelous iPod music player, in case people forget.

    Sent from my new camera-less iPod touch.

  2. I don’t get how people blame Apple because their expectations weren’t met. Did someone from Apple call you and tell you that a camera was going to be in the Touch. I have made it a habit of not reading these rumors before product announcement. And i held off being a Touch, because the only thing i expected was that the new models would be much faster than the previous models.

  3. I put off buying the Touch specifically to get the camera capability. A lot of people knew there were announcements yesterday and many of them expected the camera. It was bad expectation management on Apple’s part.

    • @Paul, actually it was bad expectation management on your part because – as always – Apple never comments on unannounced products and so never led you to believe that there would or might be a camera on the Touch – that was rumour sites and public speculators.

      You put off buying the Touch before – the good news for you is you have a speedier and maybe cheaper purchase than the day before yesterday.

  4. David,

    You think the general public LOST interest in the touch yesterday? The “general public” doesn’t even know there were announcements yesterday. The vast majority of the 220 million current (and future) iPod users don’t hang out reading tech blogs or the tech section of a newspaper. If they notice anything it’ll be the better specs and/or lower price.

    Flashy as the nano might seem to be (FM radio? Please.) it’s not a touch screen nor can it run the cool games/apps in all the commercials from the App Store. THOSE qualities are its draw, and continue to be. The nano won’t change that even a little bit.

    You act as if there’s no incentive to buy a touch now. We’ll have to wait for the holiday quarter to pass, and see the results, but I’d bet big money you’re wrong on that.

  5. Companies go to great lengths to make their higher priced products appealing so even those who cannot afford them aspire to own them. Nobody, until yesterday, went out of their way to make people aspire to own something less. All the talk around my office yesterday was about iTunes 9 and the new nano. What’s most shocking about that is we’re a software development company that makes iPhone apps. If Apple can’t get us interested in the new touch what hope have they got with the general public?

  6. I wrote this article because I saw even normally “friendly” Apple sites (such as MacDailyNews) all agog over the lack of a camera in the touch. I figured there’d be more complainers coming. Today’s Gizmodo article confirms that.

    Ultimately, the Gizmodo article gets around to what most of the complainers want to do: Bash Apple. In Gizmodo’s case it’s because Apple is lazy and has no competition, though they believe the whole cannibalization crap as well.

    As I’ve said, that Apple can force people into buying a phone instead of a non-phone is ludicrous. (I don’t know why this talk isn’t killed before it even leaves people’s mouths.)

    MDN even posited that Apple wanted to keep from cannibalizing nano sales. Huh?

    Anyway, Apple cut the original touch $30 with no other changes, and left other prices the same but added more memory and better innards. In short, they took their yearly profit margin hit (as they should, and always, do), so the camera just didn’t make the cut this time.

    The only rumor that even vaguely makes sense to me is the one about technical difficulties holding up a camera touch. Yet that rumor just lends credence to my comment that the touch camera may not be just like the one in the iPhone (so I’m sure people will wail about it anyway). Meanwhile, it would also likely prove that Apple was not about to put the (comparatively) crappy nano camera in the touch either. Expectations are rightfully too high for that camera to be used even as a stop-gap measure.

  7. Thanks, now its beginning to make a little more sense. Of course, it really doesn’t matter what Apple does, or doesn’t do, there are people out there who are going to pounce on whatever Apple does in order to make them look bad and down right evil.

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